While music licensing is a complex and somewhat obscure topic in the music industry, it plays a huge role in our everyday lives.
Whenever you hear music in a commercial, a movie, playing in Starbucks, or in that cheesy training video you had to watch at work, it’s the result of music licensing. You can think of it as one party renting music to another. Instead of selling your songs outright, permission is granted for the other party to play or use your songs in exchange for royalties. First, let’s cover some basics…
There are several aspects/rights of a song that can be licensed:
- The sound recording (masters)
- The composition (publishing)
- The lyrics
How do I gain permission to use these rights?
Permission needs to be obtained from the rights holder. Oftentimes, there are multiple rights holders, which means you’ll have to contact different parties to obtain the rights.
Sound recording: Rights to the sound recording (known as “master rights”) are usually controlled by the company or person who financed the recording. This is most often the record label, unless you’re dealing with an independent (unsigned) artist.
Composition: The composition (the lyrics and melody) is typically administered by the music publisher unless the writer(s) is(are) self-published. The songwriter still has rights even if a publishing deal is in place, but the publisher usually has the authority to license the composition without the need to negotiate directly with the songwriter(s). If there is no publisher, all rights are retained by the writer(s), and they have the sole authority to grant a license to the composition.
Lyrics: Rights to the lyrics are controlled by whoever wrote them, which is usually a songwriter. However, as with a composition, the songwriter may have a publishing deal which means you would contact the publisher to license the lyrics.
Examples of when you need to obtain rights:
- Use on radio or performance (including live and recorded versions of a song) in public (i.e. restaurant, nightclub, boutique)
- Use in a visual project (i.e. film, TV, commercial, online video, video game, etc.)
- Use in a toy that plays music
- Use in an app that displays lyrics
What kind of license do I need?
There are several types of licenses you can get depending on how you intend to use the song.
- Master Recording License. This type of license gives the license holder the right to use a recording that someone else made. The master license is obtained from the rights holder (usually record label or artist) for each song to be used for the project.
- Performance License. A performance license gives the license holder permission to use an artist’s song for live performances, clubs, businesses, multimedia presentations, music used in meetings and conventions, or simply played through a CD in a public place, e.g. ambient music in a restaurant. (See also ASCAP licensing) Songwriters and/or publishers are paid royalties for use of each track. If the songwriter is a member of a Performing Rights Organization(PRO), such as BMI, ASCAP, or PRS, the PRO will keep track of performances of the songwriter’s material and collect royalties on their behalf.
- Synchronization License. A synchronization license (commonly called a 'sync' or 'synch' license), gives the license holder permission to use a song in 'sync' with visual media. Sync licenses are usually used in television shows, movies, commercials and other videos.
Fees may vary according to:
- How the song is used (e.g. background music, theme song)
- Where it will be played (e.g. TV network, local channel)
- How many people will hear it (e.g. regular sporting event, Super Bowl)
- Type of media using the song (e.g. independent film, Hollywood movie)
- Songwriter status and experience
- Mechanical License. A mechanical license gives the license holder permission to reproduce the sound of a recording. For example, an artist that records a cover song needs a mechanical license. Each time a copy of a song is made, e.g. every CD produced, royalties are due to the songwriter(s) and/or publisher(s).
- Print License. This license is obtained to copy or reprint lyrics or sheet music for a song that someone else wrote. The royalties are paid to the writer(s) and/or publisher(s) of the song for the right to print the work. The Print License is required for every song copied or used by a third party. This type of license can be necessary to create a music book or a song sheet. The price of Print Licenses is negotiated on a case-by-case basis between the copyright holder and the licensee, thus there is no set price range.
- Blanket License. Performing Rights Organizations and collecting societies offer blanket licenses that allow a licensee to have access to a portion or complete repertoire of songs for a flat annual fee. The licensee can be, for example, a radio station or a shopping center that wants to play background music. From the licensee’s point of view, it is less time-consuming to purchase a Blanket License because it enables them to avoid clearing each song’s right with the relative copyright owner(s). These Blanket Licenses allow the system to flow smoothly and efficiently.
How can Songtradr help?
- Songtradr simplifies the licensing process.
- Offers a vast catalog of tracks that can be licensed for various needs.
- Quick, easy, transparent transaction process means time saved for “buyers”, and more money for “sellers.”